I hated school growing up. It was terrible. I was bullied incessantly by teachers and students alike, and because I was above average but also had an oppositional and independent streak (a really big one) I wasn’t allowed to participate in gifted programs. I had “an attitude problem,” I was “disrespectful,” I didn’t “work well with others.” I spent more time in the corner and in time out in 3rd and 5th grade than anyone else. Well, it certainly felt like it, anyway. Public school was a nightmare for me, and I felt left out because I was ahead of the class but made to wait on my peers, which made me resentful of classmates and teachers, and which made my classmates and teachers dislike me. If I could do it all over again, I’d never set foot in a public school ever.
But public school is a necessity. Public schools function as a way of ensuring that we have an educated populace prepared to take on the challenges of the world, but also ensure the future of our economy at home. Don’t want to go to public school? Go to private school, or a charter school. But the local public school ensures that the kids who don’t have a charter or private school option have a chance at a decent education. It’s part of the social contract we sign with each other when we decide to live together under the branch of a local government. Or something. A number of my friends are teachers and they’re passionate about their jobs – they work incredibly hard for not a lot of money. They understand the importance of education, and they wouldn’t do it otherwise.
So when Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education, we were all appalled. Betsey DeVos has no experience in public school, has never been involved in a public school, has never held any public office, has never done anything but lobby for “school choice.” Of course, party loyalty mattered more than actually promoting what was best for the nation’s public schools and the children who attend them, so all but two Republican Senators rubber-stamped DeVos’ appointment. The two Senators who did reject her did so because they were concerned about her lack of experience and knowledge of the public education system.
“I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers, that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools, and also what is broken and how to fix them,” Ms. Murkowski said last week when the two announced their opposition. [Source: NYT]
Okay, so maybe we need to make radical changes to the system. Maybe we need someone new and different to effect real change. However, that usually means the radical change agent is going to have some knowledge of (1) the system they’re trying to change, (2) the problems that need to be resolved, (3) the things that work that should be kept. In reading DeVos’ background, it’s clear that she doesn’t have any knowledge of any of those things. If you aren’t convinced, look up the video of her confirmation hearings. Apparently, the biggest problem that needs to be resolved for teachers is not having enough guns in schools to protect kids from grizzly attacks.
If that doesn’t concern you, Cosmo (yes, that Cosmo…) has an article on 11 things you should know about DeVos, and I can tell you that 3 – 5, and 7, are very concerning to me, with #5 being most concerning. DeVos pushed for charter schools in Michigan, and she got them – at the price of compromising childrens’ education. From the article:
An investigation by the Detroit Free Press in 2014 found that Michigan’s charter schools “rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it,” that charter school employees and board members were “steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders,” and that more charter schools were ranking below the 25th percentile than public schools. Even a charter advocate, former state schools superintendent Tom Watkins, said, “People are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”
Adding school choice only works when those schools perform as good or better than the existing public schools. The whole point of providing alternatives is to give people a better alternative that works for them. Providing an alternative that has no accountability and is actually worse than the existing system is counterproductive at best, actively destructive at worst. The whole thing smacks of the bizarre assertion that you have to burn the village in order to save it, and the people who will suffer the most are the kids who go to these crappy schools and come out unprepared for the real world as future adults, the people who will rely on these future adults to support the economy, and the future generations that have to work to fix an even more broken system.
But that’s all in the future, and politics is hyper-focused on the here and now. How many votes can I get NOW? What are my popularity ratings NOW? What’s my likelihood of re-election NOW? The future is obscure and doesn’t get votes, but pandering to current concerns (real or imagined) does.
Well, good luck, everyone. So far we’re doing a good job of turning our country into Idiocracy. Hopefully it will at least be entertaining….
Edited: (1) to correct spelling of Mrs. DeVos’ name.